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Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God

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Praised as a “revelatory” book by The Wall Street Journal , this is the last and most personal work of Pulitzer Prize–winning author and historian Will Durant, discovered thirty-two years after his death.

The culmination of Will Durant’s sixty-plus years spent researching the philosophies, religions, arts, sciences, and civilizations from across the world, Fallen Leaves is the distilled wisdom of one of the world’s greatest minds, a man with a renowned talent for rendering the insights of the past accessible. Over the course of Durant’s career he received numerous letters from “curious readers who have challenged me to speak my mind on the timeless questions of human life and fate.” With Fallen Leaves , his final book, he at last accepted their challenge.

In twenty-two short chapters, Durant addresses everything from youth and old age to religion, morals, sex, war, politics, and art. Fallen Leaves is “a thought-provoking array of opinions” ( Publishers Weekly ), offering elegant prose, deep insights, and Durant’s revealing conclusions about the perennial problems and greatest joys we face as a species. In Durant’s singular voice, here is a message of insight for everyone who has ever sought meaning in life or the counsel of a learned friend while navigating life’s journey.

208 pages, Hardcover

First published December 9, 2014

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About the author

Will Durant

668 books2,539 followers
William James Durant was a prolific American writer, historian, and philosopher. He is best known for the 11-volume The Story of Civilization, written in collaboration with his wife Ariel and published between 1935 and 1975. He was earlier noted for his book, The Story of Philosophy, written in 1926, which was considered "a groundbreaking work that helped to popularize philosophy."

They were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1967 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 159 reviews
Profile Image for Kathy Cowie.
847 reviews21 followers
February 8, 2016
3.5 stars -
Will Durant was an American writer, historian and philosopher. Over the course of his life, people asked for his personal take on things, and this book is the culmination of those thoughts. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this; a nice mix of timeless thoughts and ideas best understood in the context of the times.

I don’t usually quote from books I read for pleasure, but I found myself highlighting different parts — some for the lyrical writing or truisms, and others for the (thankfully) dated concepts.

Durant writes that youth, “is learning to read (which is all that one learns in school), and is learning where and how to find what he may later need to know (which is the best of the arts that he acquires in college). Nothing learned from a book is worth anything until it is used and verified in life; only then does it begin to affect behavior and desire. It is Life that educates, and perhaps love more than anything else in life”.

After that, I was a little taken aback by his thoughts on education. “As for the girl, it will avail her nothing to know a foreign language, archeology, and trigonometry, if she cannot manage a home, a husband, and a child; fidelity is nourished through the stomach, and good pies do more for monogamy than all the languages that have ever died. One tongue is enough for any woman, and a good mother is worth a thousand PhDs.” So of course after reading that I have to find out about his wife, and writing partner, Ariel. Here’s the shortform Wiki on her: came to the US from the Ukraine, attended the Ferrer Modern School, where Will taught. No note on whether she graduated, but Will resigned his post to marry her — she was fifteen at the time. They married on Halloween, 1913, and died within two weeks of each other in 1981. So, I’m not sure how someone who shared a Pulitzer with his wife reconciles that kind of thinking, but, to be fair, the part about the pies is totally spot on.

I can’t end on that quote, because then you won’t think I liked this book, and I truly did, despite what that says about my feminist tendencies. Here is a sentence of beauty to mull over, “Civilization is a fragile bungalow precariously poised on a live volcano of barbarism.” Too depressing? How about a suggestion he offers? “No one has a right to bring a child into the community without having passed tests of physical and mental fitness to breed.” Ok, maybe that would be bad; not sure if I would have passed, especially given what my doctor liked to call my “advanced maternal age”.

What I really loved about this book is that while it felt at times like poetic musings, it was, for the most part, simple, concise and focused. There are short little essays on each topic, so the book will probably not keep you up late at night on the edge of your seat. But each time you come back to it, you will be glad to be back in his company again.
Profile Image for Bryan Neuschwander.
262 reviews8 followers
August 19, 2015
I suspect the author of the sweeping eleven-volume series The Story of Civilization (1935-1975) is right about this:

"An effective approach to the problem of war will proceed, not by large and generous emotions, but by the specific study and patient adjustment of specific causes and disputes. Peace must be planned and organized as realistically as war--with provision for every factor, and prevision for every detail. This cannot be done in an occasional moment stolen by statesmen from internal affairs; it requires the full-time attention of first-rate minds" (97).

It's pretty intriguing that Durant so respected Jesus and his teaching and that as he pondered the work of his life, he reflects,

"If I could live another life, endowed with my present mind and mood, I would not write history or philosophy, but would devote myself to establishing an association of men and women free to have any tolerant theology or no theology at all, but pledged to follow as far as possible the ethics of Christ, including chastity before marriage, fidelity within it, extensive charity, and peaceful opposition to any but the most clearly defensible war" (45).

I find it incredibly sad that Durant apparently could not find his proposed "fellowship of semi-saints" in the church, which is certainly meant to freely "follow as far as possible the ethics of Christ," though not merely through their own will to power. If I could have a conversation over coffee with Durant, could I convincingly connect the morality of Jesus' teaching and the beauty of his person--in both his invitation and his challenge--in a way that leads us back through theology rather than away from it? Would we hear Jesus calling, saying "this way is life, come and see"?
Profile Image for Barry Belmont.
114 reviews20 followers
July 25, 2016
A person will always be of their time and place even if they've synthesized so perfectly the times and places of so many others. Here, Will Durant, who I love as an author beyond measure, lays out his personal thoughts on many things worth having thoughts on, indeed almost everything worth having thoughts on. And as with anyone's personal thoughts on matters there is a lot to agree and disagree with here. Durant has a gift with words and a talent for connections. His joy is unsurpassed and his love is for all humankind. But he, like all others, is a person of his time. So if we should find that a man born before the turn of two previous centuries should have thoughts on matters that might not be fully our own, how far should we begrudge him? This work is intimate and loving, born from a place deeply personal. If it does nothing more than give me a better picture of one of our greatest authors it will have served its humble purpose well.

And what more can we really ask of it?
Profile Image for Risha.
134 reviews44 followers
December 20, 2016
This is one tricky book to review. The content is like a pendulum of ideas; it shifts from highly conservative to surprisingly liberal in a matter of paragraphs (not even pages).

Some chapters are very well-written while others - especially the one on women - might leave the feminist in you shocked, and frankly, a bit flabbergasted. I was afraid my disappointment and anger at the highly conservative ideas about women might unfairly bring down my opinion of the entire book (because there are some authentically great suggestions in here).

I would like to add, though, that this was written some 30 odd years ago but it released in 2016.

So, instead of letting my feminist side cloud my judgement, I've decided to rate each chapter to get an average rating for the book.

Our Life Begins - 4 stars
On Youth - 4.5 stars
On Middle Age - 3.75 stars
On Old Age - 3.75 stars
On Death - 2.75 stars
Our Souls - 3.5 stars
Our Gods - 3.75 stars
On Religion - 2.75 stars
On a Different Second Advent - 3.75 stars
On Religion and Morals - 4 stars
On Morality - 3.75 stars
On Race - 3 stars
On Women - 0 Stars
On Sex - 2.5 stars
On War - 3 stars
On Vietnam - 3 stars
On Politics - 3 stars
On Capitalism and Communism - 4 stars
On Art - 1 star
On Science - 2.5 stars
On Education - 2.5 stars
On the Insights of History - 2.5 stars

Average: 3.1 stars

Having said all this, I have to mention the eloquence, grace and dignity with which the writer constructs phrases to form coherent ideas.
Profile Image for Ali.
39 reviews11 followers
November 30, 2015
"I know that life is in its basis a mystery; a flowing river from an unseen source and in its development an infinite subtlety; a "a dome on many-colored glass", too complex for thought , much less for utterance.
And yet the thirst for unity draws me eternally on. To chart this wilderness of experience and history, to bring into focus the future, the unsteady light of the past, to bring into significance and purpose the chaos of sensation and desire, to discover the direction of life's majestic stream and thereby in some measure, perhaps, to control its flow: this insatiable metaphysical lust is one of the noble aspects of our questioning race. Our grasp is greater than our reach; but therefore our reach is made greater than that grasp."

Such words form the preamble of book, which is rich with Durant's experience of a lifetime. His views and ideas all into one book, written at the age of 95 years! From the vision of a philosopher looking back on his life and his work on civilizations! Answering the questions which have both confronted and bothered many. Fallen Leaves are Durant's Last Words on Life, Love, God and War. He charters various territories in the sublimest of essays which leave the reader engrossed and pondering. Wondering how Durant is able to speak so freely and accurately to the reader. A must read for every person! Enough said already. (Durant's original lesson as brevity itself)
Profile Image for Ahla Ahsanian.
82 reviews
October 16, 2022
توی این روزای عجیب و ترسناک، بین حجم غم و خشم و گیجی و ترس از انفعال و ترس از اشتباه فعال بودن:) این کتاب، مأمن و محل یادگیری‌م بود.
مثل این بود که دارم تمام سوالاتم رو از انسانی دانا و فروتن میپرسم و اونم با مهربونی بهم جواب میده.
یه سری نگاه‌های ویل دورانت (مخصوصا درمورد زنان) خیلی با نقطه‌نظر من متفاوت بود. ولی باز هم خیلی روشنگر بود تمام کتاب. درمورد هنر، سیاست، آموزش و علم خیلی خیلی توضیحات دقیق و عمیق ولی قابل فهمی برای همه نوشته شده بود.
قطعا بازم به تیکه‌هایی از کتاب برمیگردم و بازم میخونم تا درکم کامل‌تر شه…
Profile Image for Ashok Krishna.
346 reviews53 followers
December 17, 2020
“There was a time when I…”

“In our days…”

“In my days it used to be better…”

These are some of the utterances through which the elderly people alienate themselves from the others and start appearing like a bore. Nope, I am not talking against their privilege to that common nostalgia. It is how they start harping on about how things were different and better in ‘their days’ that drives people away. But not every old person becomes a bore though. Some of them, through their immense experience and wisdom, gathered through the many long decades, help the younger people get a better perspective on the things around. Like Mr. Durant, who speaks to us through this book, from behind the veils of Death.

In his long life of 96 years, Mr. Durant had seen more than the most of us can even imagine. To put his life span in perspective, he was born on the same year when Louis Pasteur found the first vaccine and breathed his last in 1981, when NASA’s Space Shuttle took its first orbital flight. In this period, he had seen empires peak in glory and plummet to pieces, revolutions in Russia, the reshaping of Europe, two World Wars, man’s glorious landing on the Moon, eradication of smallpox, advent of digital era and so much more. Let that sink in!!!

Not just his age, Mr. Durant was a brilliant and prolific writer too. His books on history and philosophy have become some of the essential works in their respective fields. So, when a man like William James Durant leaves some unpublished manuscripts for posterity to benefit, I couldn’t let go of the opportunity to grab that book.

This book is a gem. It is not philosophy or a chronological listing of events. This is Mr. Durant letting us know his very personal opinions about various aspects of human life – from love to life, from war to democracy, from education to religion. He has delved into all the aspects of human life, from birth to death and all other things in between. Page upon page, one could feel the yearnings of a grand old man who had seen the past and who hopes for a better, improved future, without ever sounding ‘in our days things used to be better…’!

Time flies but Truth stays. All our lives, fancies, dreams, hopes, pains, desires, wars, religions, reasons, ramblings, glorious achievements, crippling pains, fantasies are all but transient, swirling eddies that forever rise and fall in the cosmic deluge. But there are certain truths that stay ever relevant, from the first human to the day of his/her final descendant. Mr. Durant has tried to recall such truths in this book. He was one who had known that history repeats itself, sometimes even after we learn from it. He was also aware that some Truths remain untouched even amidst that flux. This book is his recounting of such truths, so that we, the lesser mortals may learn and benefit from it.

In his words “in the train of life it is the old who yield their seats to the young”. The grand old man, which such a beautiful understanding of the cycle of Life, has left behind this work of wisdom by ruminating on the past, gleaning all the timeless principles of life and putting them on paper. If you are a history / philosophy aficionado, who isn’t averse to listening to and learning from the old people, this book is for you!
49 reviews1 follower
February 2, 2015
Since college I always wanted to read his 11 volume "Story of Civilization", so when I saw Fallen Leaves in the local library I immediately recognized the authors name. I was thinking that anyone who took 40 years to research and write the story of all human time, would probable have something interesting to say in a couple hundred pages. I was not disappointed. Consider also that he lived through two world wars, the depression and two presidential assassinations. Durant was born the same time as my grandfather (1885) and he died the same year as my dad (1981). Fallen Leaves was found and published 30+ years after his death, so you would assume no personal agenda or attempt to burnish a legacy. The essays are a summary of a long life's thoughts about stuff that matters, presented humbly, without guile, matter of factly, with no attempt to settle scores. Plenty to disagree with (he is left wing for sure), but that is overshadowed by respect and admiration for his achievements. I was hoping to find some recordings of him in person; there is an out of print documentary of Durant which I haven't been able to locate. The best essays in the book are his thoughts on childhood ("only children and fools tell the truth"), science (lauds and limits) and education (providing the means for one to control, enjoy and understand their life). So many quotable gems throughout the whole book that I ordered a personal copy to re-read and highlight profusely rather than succumbing to the temptation of defacing the library copy.
Profile Image for Nikola Jankovic.
550 reviews109 followers
October 27, 2022
Naleteo sam pre dva meseca na komplet Istorija civilizacije na nekom sajtu. Snižen sa 48,000 RSD na 18,000 RSD, a pored mene nikog ko će da me spreči da kliknem na "Kupi". Eno sad tih tridesetak kilograma i 15,000 strana, savijaju mi gornju knjižnu policu. Pita me ćerka pre neki dan da li sam pročitao prvu knjigu.

Nisam, ali počeo sam sa istočnim civilizacijama i one - obećavaju. Zato me je interesovalo šta je još napisao autor koji je sposoban da sagleda stvari na taj način. Ovo je zbirka njegovih ličnih eseja o bitnim stvarima u životu - o istoriji, filozofiji, religiji, umetnosti, ljubavi, društvu, politici, odrastanju i starenju. Razmišljanja svedoka napretka od 1885, vremena kad su jahali konje kao glavno prevozno sredstvo, pa do 12 godina nakon čovekovog pristanka na Mesecu.

Kakvi su ti eseji? Pa, kad piše o istoriji, ipak se u najvećoj meri suzdržava ličnog mišljenja. Ovde je tih komentara i previše - zapravo to je i ideja knjige - pa ako se ne slažeš s nekim od njegovih pogleda na važne stvari (na primer, kako žali zbog propadanja katolicizma među intelektualnom elitom zapada, što utiče i na druge teme), ne može ni celina da te baš oduševi.
Profile Image for Ci.
960 reviews6 followers
May 6, 2016
Durant's writing in this book has a highly lyrical, declarative quality. The contents are ruminating thoughts widely ranged on life, history and philosophy. Its style shares little with that of the more measured, conversational style of Montaigne, or a carefully developed arguments as that of a Seneca.

Durant's philosophical anchor is a Life Force with an agnostic slant toward religious beliefs. His own philosopher is Spinoza, and his scientists are Darwin and other evolutionary scholars. His philosophy seems to be deeply embedded in the modernity and a historical positivism.

Profile Image for Farhan Khalid.
405 reviews97 followers
October 25, 2019
We like children because they are our unprecedented selves

Children and fools speak the truth and somehow they find happiness in their sincerity

See him, the newborn, dirty but marvelous, ridiculous in actuality, infinite in possibility, capable of that ultimate miracle—growth

Can you conceive it—that this queer bundle of sound and pain will come to know love, anxiety, prayer, suffering, creation, metaphysics, death?

He cries. He has been so long asleep in the quiet warm womb of his mother

Now suddenly he is compelled to breathe, and it hurts; compelled to see light, and it pierces him; compelled to hear noise, and it terrifies him

The world is a puzzle to him

Curiosity consumes and develops him

He learns by imitation, though his parents think he learns by sermons

Our children bring us up by showing us, through imitation, what we really are

The child might be the beginning and the end of philosophy

In its insistent curiosity and growth lies the secret of all metaphysics

Looking upon it in its cradle, or as it creeps across the floor, we see life not as an abstraction, but as a flowing reality that breaks through all our mechanical categories, all our physical formulas

Death, like style, is the removal of rubbish, the circumcision of the superfluous

In the midst of death life renews itself immortally

The individual fails, but life succeeds

Death wins

The soul, as distinct from the mind, I mean an inner directive and energizing force in every body

We are living flames of desire until we admit final defeat

Will is desire expressed in ideas that become actions unless impeded by contrary or substitute desires and ideas

Logic itself is a human creation, and may be ignored by the universe

Desire, not experience, is the essence of life

Experience becomes the tool of desire in the enlightenment of mind and the pursuit of ends

But my soul as me is bound up with my organized and centrally directed body, and with my individual memories, desires, and character

It must suffer disintegration as my body decays

I am quite content with mortality

I should be appalled at the thought of living forever, in whatever paradise

As I move on into my nineties my ambitions moderate, my zest in life wanes

I have already lived enough

We must make room for our children

I see many evidences of order in the universe, but also many conditions that seem to me disorderly

My conceptions of order and disorder, as of beauty and sublimity and ugliness, are subjective

Since my mind can deal better with things when I have put order into them and the universe has no obligations to follow my preferences

There is so much suffering in the world, and so much of it apparently undeserved

The history of humanity might be written in terms of the avatars of God

The repeated death of an old god to make room for a deity fitted to the rising knowledge and moral level of a race

Every people has in every epoch reinterpreted God after its own fashion

Men heard a voice commanding them to enlarge their idea of God to suit the universe that astronomy was opening to human view

The next great task of science—to create a new religion for humanity

Life itself can be the new God

This is the God I worship: the persistent and creative Life that struggles up from the energy of the atom to make the earth green with growth, to stir the youth with ambition and the girl with tender longing, to mold the form of woman, to agitate geniuses, to guide the art of Phidias, and to justify itself in Spinoza and Christ

I know that there are other aspects of reality than this life

That Nature is rich in terrors as well as in beauty and development

Is my God personal? No—and why should it be?

Personality belongs only to the parts of creation, not to the creative force

Personality is separateness, a special form of will and character

The God I worship could not be such a separate and partial self

It is the sum and source of that universal vitality of which our little egos are abstracted fragments and experimental proliferations

We are all drops of water trying to analyze the sea

I have pictured the world as a scene not of blind mechanism but of striving and creative life

Let me have something to worship!

My independent reading of Darwin and Spencer melted my inherited theology

I had replaced my Christian creed with a dream of socialism as the hope of the world; so Utopia comes up as heaven goes down

Those who were deeply indoctrinated with Catholicism in their adolescence never quite recover from the collapse of their faith, for Catholicism is the most attractive of religions, rich in drama, poetry, and art, faith, brought consolation to millions of souls suffering pain, bereavement, or defeat

I have tried to keep some hold on the religion of my youth by interpreting its basic doctrines as symbols that gave popular expression to philosophic truths

Expulsion of “our first parents” from paradise:

Knowledge can destroy a happy innocence and many a comforting or inspiring delusion

Heaven and hell remain for me not places in another world, but states of mind

Underprivileged nations and classes have sought consolation in supernatural beliefs, dignifying themselves by association with mystic powers, and tempering the sting of poverty with hopes of a better fortune in another world

Religions are not made by the intellect, else they would never touch the soul or reach the masses

We cannot expect a religion to be a body of scientific propositions

Nationalism overrides morality and becomes a religion stronger than any church

We must not imagine that past generations were much more moral than our own

The historian does not find them so

We should treat criminals as victims of mental disturbance

That differences of race, color, and creed are natural, and that diverse groups, institutions, and ideas are stimulating factors in the development of man

That to promote harmony in diversity is a responsible task of religion and statesmanship

The art that has made the most indisputable progress is the art of war

The causes of war are psychological, biological, economic, and political

They lie in the natural impulses of men, in the competitions of groups, in the material needs of societies, and in the fluctuations of national ambition and power

What are the needs and impulses to produce a work of art?

Presumably because he wishes to express himself, his ideas, and his moods

Philosophers have shown more hesitation in defining beauty than in describing God

Cubism is a disease

The most distressing feature of contemporary art is its revolt against beauty

It aims to express an emotion or an attitude rather than to create a pleasing or inspiring form

The Industrial Revolution may have accustomed us to squares and angles and straight lines, to massive mechanical objects

If there is no God,” mused Ivan Karamazov, “everything is permitted”

If there are no rules, standards, or models, says the unmoored artist, I can offer anything as art

Any art that has no ruling form is the empty vanity of an undisciplined mind

Abstract painter might manipulate colors as a composer marshals tones

I admire our skyscrapers

Why should we not acknowledge that a handsome automobile is more satisfying to our esthetic sense than most of the sculpture of our age?

Art without science is poverty, and science without art is barbarism

Let us rejoice when a science becomes an art

A new priesthood is forming above us

I honor them, for they hold nothing true unless it has been repeatedly verified by experience

I salute them, for they have worked miracles more marvelous than most of those that once supported religious faith

Verily we live in another age of miracles

I mourn when I see so much scientific genius dedicated to the art of massacre

Every solution bares a new problem

But we need something more than knowledge; we need the wisdom and character to use our knowledge with foresight and caution

What is character? It is a rational harmony and hierarchy of desires in coordination with capacity

What is wisdom? It is an application of experience to present problems, a view of the part in the light of the whole, a perspective of the moment in the vista of years past and years to come

Knowledge is power

Three basic goods should determine education and define its goals:

First, the control of life, through health, character, intelligence, and technology

Second, the enjoyment of life, through friendship, nature, literature, and art

Third, the understanding of life, through history, science, religion, and philosophy

Intellect is the capacity for acquiring and accumulating ideas; intelligence is the ability to use experience

It is evident that education cannot be completed in school or college or university

These offer us only the tools and maps for those farther-ranging studies that lead to the control, the enjoyment, and the understanding of life

History is the record of the lasting contributions made to man’s knowledge, wisdom, arts, morals, manners, skills

History is a laboratory rich in a hundred thousand experiments in economics, religion, literature, science, and government

It is a mistake to think that the past is dead

A wise man can learn from other men’s experience; a fool cannot learn even from his own
Profile Image for Valentin.
7 reviews4 followers
January 31, 2016
Fallen Leaves is a compendium of thoughts from a lifetime of scholarship and reflection on the history of mankind. Simply put, Durant's prose is dazzling, and though some of his ideas now feel painfully dated (e.g. his comments on the roots of beauty in heterosexual love, and the rather parochial treatment of the role of females in society), the large majority are poignant, nuanced, and pithy.
The chapters on God and the soul are maybe my favourite. Though he seems to be a devoted secularist, Durant rebels against Nietzsche, and the rise of scientific determinism. Durant's God is that of life, of nature's will to rise and replenish the old, of 'the long struggle of matter to rise from atomic energy to intelligence....to poets, saints, artists, scientists and philosophers.' Though he passively agrees with Nietzsche that the personal God was killed with the industrial revolution, he still considers himself a Christian in the sense that he wants to live up to the ethics of Christ. 'God is dead', Durant writes, 'but let me still have something to worship!'
I loved the short chapters in Fallen Leaves, and raced through it in two sittings. Highly recommended for anyone curious about what can be learned through a lifetime of appreciation of history, philosophy and the arts.
Profile Image for Pat Rolston.
322 reviews15 followers
June 20, 2021
Will Durant takes stock of contemporary society and bears witness to the time in which he lived while providing his deeply personal outlook on life in his final masterpiece. It is the poetic Durant documenting a storybook childhood to the tumultuous era inclusive of our world wars and the immense forces that reveal his values and morals. His opinions and philosophy reflect the times and the man’s upbringing as a Catholic in an America that I barely recognise today.

As a man whose genius was applied to the documenting of Western Civilisation it is interesting to read his lamentation regarding his true passion. He said he would trade all of his life’s work writing for the opportunity to take up the cause for social justice. His deeply held conviction that the ills of society can be healed with universal education equally applied is clear. He also advocated for teaching of the great philosophers and moral principles once a week. This would include a wide and diverse exposure to all religions of the world combined with the secular philosophies of the great thinkers in history. Truly Will Durant is a great human who has made a dramatic impact on humanity for the betterment of all.
Profile Image for M Jahangir kz.
82 reviews26 followers
May 26, 2020
This is my first book of will durrant.
This book are his final words on life, love war and God.
The author which given almost his entire life to analyzing, observing, history and different events as a whole, as a historian and a philosopher will durrant gives a full insight of his wisdom in this Book.
The book is riched with distilled wisdom, he has provided his last words on the topic mentioned, the book provide us a diverse and a unique perspective of life.
Profile Image for Alex.
499 reviews10 followers
May 5, 2022
'Fallen Leaves' is an excellent little book.

Written by intellectual titan Will Durant near the end of his 96-year life, these 22 short chapters pull together the man's thoughts on everything from politics to sex to religion to sports. In the forward, Durant modestly asserts that he has nothing new to teach the reader, as he is merely the product of roughly 10,000 years of Western Civilization: he offers, at best, simply to put his spin on things. That said, Durant's spin is worth reading. Reading 'Fallen Leaves' is like sitting at the knee of your wise great-grandfather.

That said, and Durant is the first to admit it, your wise great-grandfather is a product of his time. Many of his opinions may strike the reader as strange, outdated, or regressive. That's fine, though. The reader needn't agree with everything the writer says to profit from the experience of reading him. Will Durant spent his long and productive life researching, thinking, and writing about the ebb and flow of civilizations. You can profit from spending 5 hours listening to his thoughts.
Profile Image for Brett Williams.
Author 2 books58 followers
May 23, 2018
Reflections after 70 years of scholarship

Sometimes brilliant, sometimes too formal. A few chapters without relevance. Saving “The Insights of History” for last. Periodically, Durant provides wisdom only an alert, observant 94 year old can. His stages of life chapters were delightful and provided some comfort. Regrets of my youth were little different from the standard adolescent. His summary chart of age by column, with rows of single word descriptions was fun to score where I reside intellectually / spiritually / characteristically between young and old (firmly in “middle age 2” at 2.02).

Durant highlights an evolution in morality that undid a onetime reference to it: “…the ethics of Christ have made it impossible for developed minds to believe that a ‘grim beard of a God’ freighted our forbearers into decency,” writes Durant. “It was Christ who killed Jehovah.” Though Durant maintains this is not the root of moral decay. That belongs to the Industrial Age, as he lists its toxins. He sees modernity as a perilous investigation, having departed ways fit for agricultural society, uncertain of just how far individualism can be pressed before chaos. Like Plato and Brooks Adams, he expects cycles of license and severity. Each movement a response to its progenitor and the dual nature of humans.

He takes a pleasant, sometimes humorous squat on Freud, modern art as “idolatry of the new becomes worship of the bazaar,” and Herbert Spencer’s crusade for “trade school” universities shelling out employable cogs (for Durant, a mere first order goal of education), not vital humans. The inverse of this treatment is saved for history, “as a laboratory rich in a hundred thousand experiments.” Where we see the initial conditions, gauge atmospherics of the people’s emotional temperature, their intellectual weight. Then watch the test run over pages unfolded in the petri dish of time.
Profile Image for Michael Rhode.
Author 15 books4 followers
May 16, 2016
Even though this is a new book, the essays are dated and many read poorly due to developments since Durant died. And even things that don't change are viewed through his lenses of old age's dislike of change and his longing for the certainties of his Catholic boyhood. His views on the role of women and the idea of premarital sex particularly illustrate problematic opinions for a modern reader.

That said, portions of the book resonate with me. From a chapter on middle age:

"We perceive, at first incredulously and then with despair, that the reservoir of strength no longer fills itself after we draw upon it. The discovery darkens life for some years; we begin to mourn the brevity of the human span, and the impossibility of wisdom or fulfillment within so limited a circle; we stand at the top of the hill, and without straining our eyes we can see, at its bottom, death."

On history: "But there is another way in which to view history; history as man's rise from savagery to civilization-history as the record of the lasting contributions made to man's knowledge, wisdom, arts, morals, manners, skills-history as a laboratory rich in a hundred thousand experiments in economics, religion, literature, science, and government-history as our roots and our illumination..." and "It is a mistake to think that the past is dead. Nothing that has ever happened is quite without influence at this moment. The present is merely the past rolled up and concentrated in this second of time."

Profile Image for Matthew.
Author 1 book37 followers
June 3, 2017
4.5 stars - this is beautiful writing on all the topics that concern mankind, which the author (a Pulitzer Prize and Medal of Freedom recipient) spent decades of work on and was nearly lost to history (found in an attic in 2011, decades after the author's death). Reading his comments on women and religion as simply a product of his time helps swallow a few passages that modern readers will raise their eyebrows at. Above all, a militant defense of education as the only true means of liberation (which he weaves through 20+ chapters on love, religion, war, science, etc) with a corresponding emphasis on character (which few these days feel comfortable discussing yet the author persuasively argues from all things flow). I am quite partial to books written in this vein of old school confidence and calmness - it's very clear a master wrote this book.

Underlined 107 passages from this book.
Profile Image for Dean.
Author 6 books9 followers
February 18, 2015
Childhood may be defined as the age of play; therefore some children are never young, and some adults are never old.". Will Durant, Fallen Leaves.

Was a little disappointed based on my very high expectations based on how many hours I spent with Will Durant reading my way through, "The Story of Civilization".

His memoir seemed dated and a little stale.
Profile Image for Bita.
8 reviews
November 12, 2015
Whether it is really written by great Will Durant or not, i liked it. Some issues were not related to our time specially when it came to women. There were some very fantastic sentenced which I loved in other chapters.
Profile Image for Yasir Malik.
52 reviews2 followers
January 16, 2016
Some excellent thoughts on issues we all face, war, death, life etc. Do not agree with all his views and find them a but inappropriate in this day especially with regards to women. Still would recommend to read and pick up some gems. Style is a bit difficult to read.
Profile Image for Jackie Smith.
24 reviews1 follower
December 11, 2015
This is really interesting. I agree with much of Durant's thoughts especially on education and government, sadly they are much too utopian and sensible to ever be the reality. His thoughts on women are somewhat outdated to my mind, but all in all well worth reading.
Profile Image for Hasan.
76 reviews55 followers
May 18, 2016
Will Durant is a drop of water trying to analyze the sea. A collection of his thoughts on life, Love, War and God. I am and always will be in awe of his knowledge and the eloquence with which he wrote his thoughts. Brilliant!
15 reviews20 followers
February 9, 2019
"Fallen Leaves" by Will Durant, was perhaps, his last academic creation.

Initially I struggled to read it; I kept reading it in random order. It took me some time but finally, I was drawn into it.

Durant has tried to share what he has all along tried to learn, understand and come to think, reflect and, not sure, know. He has painstakingly endeavoured to share what he was able to foresee or couldn't; for we all are prone to making errors of judgment, howsoever, we may be well read and experienced.

In some chapters, I felt like he was prescribing remedies without diagnosing the illness in detail. Perhaps he was afraid he might take longer to make the point. Are we prone to taking too much time to get down to the reality? I just wonder. Everyone of us ought to think about it.

On understanding history, he makes a great point: history is more than the kings, queens, generals, conquests, battles, wars, and their dates; it's about the peace time- the rapid changes in arts and literature, science and knowledge; culture and civilization.

Durant has a lot to say on many areas and aspects of our life and civilization. Definitely he has his perspective; so do we, but how assuredly we have a perspective of ours, our very own unafraid, just as he has.

To those, who really like to understand how we end up making our perspectives in the end, this is a great lesson and well worth a try. And, in the end, I really was able to enjoy the experience. Thanks, Will!

Best of luck.
Profile Image for Garth.
211 reviews1 follower
February 4, 2022
Mr. Durant lived a very long and eventful life. He also had an amazing intellect that acquired and accumulated great stores of information. His intelligence, that trait which acquires experience including that of other people, was slightly skewed to reflect the turn of the Twentieth Century and the trains of thought that you'd expect from someone who reported on the First World War. There are times his writing is so eloquent that you just have to stop and read the sentence or paragraph several times in some vain attempt to ingrain it on your soul or memorize it so you sound pithy and wise in conversation. And there are times when you just sit open mouthed in disbelief that someone so wise could think like that but you always had to agree that his syntax was concise and his prose inimitable. He could be, understandably considering his advanced age when writing this tome, conservative in some of his views but could also be surprisingly liberal, open-minded and forward thinking. He had some blindingly brilliant ideas and some that should have remained buried in the litter box outside the back porch door. For the sheer pleasure of his writing despite my disagreeing with some of his more conservative views this held me from cover to cover and it is now among my favourite books.
Profile Image for bajwa .
77 reviews17 followers
November 3, 2019
This books is a bit conservative and redundant but conveys an important message trying to be as brief as possible at the same time. Provides a clear understanding of most of the prevailing issues keeping in context the different perspectives and dynamics involved in these issues. Some solutions proposed as well, which might not prove agreeable to many but they seem logical and rational.

Interesting topics covered in form of small chapters, some of them delightful to read. Especially the chapter on history is worth reading again, it aroused my fondness of history once again. In the end, its just a ninety-five year old person trying to use his pen, knowledge and experience for the betterment of the world. Looking forward to read other books by Durant.
Profile Image for Ben.
554 reviews5 followers
December 22, 2016
A wonderful end-cap and collection of thoughts to the life of Will Durant (written shortly before his death and published posthumously). Some of the things at the end, in his final chapter, are a bit undoable/....bit not with the times and something really to do, but he was a conservative (especially in matters sexual and in relations and discussions on women). He does have wonderful ideas on education, politics, government, and of course anyone who knows him knows that his views on history, literature, etc, is all fantastic. Would have been a delight to get to hear him do speeches while he was still alive.
Profile Image for Mazen Yehia.
184 reviews16 followers
January 5, 2021
"Health lies in action, and so it graces youth. To be busy is the secret of grace,
and half the secret of content. Let us ask the gods not for possessions, but for things
to do; happiness is in making things rather than in consuming them. In Utopia,
said Thoreau, each would build his own home; and then song would come back to
the heart of man, as it comes to the bird when it builds its nest. If we cannot build
our homes, we can at least walk and throw and run; and we should never be so old
as merely to watch games instead of playing them. Let us play is as good as Let us
pray, and the results are more assured."
Profile Image for Kellog Mcpussy.
60 reviews
January 26, 2016
What a delightful read! Durant writes lyrically and beautifully. Through his writing, he seduces you to drop your guard, as I did when I read what he had to say on religion. Despite being a nonbeliever, I was quite intrigued by his outline for a non-divisive religious fellowship; should such a thing come to fruition, I would not mind being a member.

Certain views can appear quite dated or idealistic (especially his views on women, loosening morals and the role of education), but by and large it is a thoroughly enjoyable and edifying read.
41 reviews2 followers
February 8, 2016
Style meets substance in this collection of essays on everything from politics to art, distilled through a historian's lens. For me the charm of this book lay not so much in the ideas as in how they were expressed; Durant's way with words gives new life to timeworn thoughts as well as eloquent twists on prevailing truisms. Among my favorites is his take on the past that lives, even more than the present. To be sure, at times the language seemed to obfuscate rather than enhance the message, but on the whole this was a very rewarding read.
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